Several years ago, the American Diabetes Association decided to create a new position called the National Youth Advocate, which would give one lucky teen the chance to meet with Senators and Representatives and travel to summer camps to inspire young kids to get involved in diabetes research and awareness. It's similar to the JDRF Children's Congress concept, except for the fact that it's just one kid for a whole year. This year, Christian Stokes, an 18-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is taking some time out of his school schedule and playing football to serve as this advocate.
In his bio, Christian states: "I want to raise awareness about the fact that diabetes is a serious disease. But I also want to tell kids with diabetes that even though having diabetes is hard, it doesn't mean you can't achieve your goals." Too true — and he knows a thing or two about goals: his future career plans entail becoming an epidemiologist!
A Guest Post by Christian Stokes, ADA National Youth Advocate
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves" — Viktor Frankl
I have met many people with diabetes who are afraid of it. They're afraid it will change their lives and stop them from living a normal life — but I am not afraid. At only 15 months old, I was blessed with an incurable disease: type 1 diabetes. I believe that diabetes has given me gifts that no other person or experience could grant me.
So my story begins at the age of 15 months. Thankfully, my mom knew the warning signs. I was rushed into urgent care where I was officially diagnosed as a "type 1 diabetic". My parents were told that I was probably going to be small, weak and possibly mentally slow. But my life has nothing in common with that early, depressing warning to my parents.
Case in point: I'm taller than both my parents! I wrestled Varsity when I was 14. I also played football and as a sophomore I received the scholar athlete award. I've done well academically, taking challenging classes and even received a college scholarship! I defied those early expectations and I have proven to myself and others that diabetes doesn't compromise my ability to compete — in fact, it has spurred me on!
It was that kind of drive that compelled me to apply to be the American Diabetes Association's National Youth Advocate (NYA). Being chosen as the NYA is an amazing honor. As the NYA, I get to travel all around the country encouraging kids and adults to get involved in the fight against diabetes. Last month, I was in Orlando blogging from the Children with Diabetes conference, and a week later I was in Houston, TX, visiting an ADA Diabetes Camp. You can read my blogs about some of these experiences here.
I've met with senators and congressmen about issues that are important to all people affected by diabetes, like funding for diabetes research and prevention. Getting to meet these important leaders at just 18 years old was a real thrill for me, and knowing that I might be influencing their decisions was overwhelming, but I have to admit, it also felt really cool. When I met with my legislators and their staff, they were truly interested in what I had to say about my personal diabetes story and what they can do to help. Nearly every person I talked with that day said "Oh, I know someone with diabetes." It made me remember how widespread this disease is, and how fortunate I am to be involved in the fight to stop diabetes. I'm very grateful to the ADA and its community of volunteers and supporters for this opportunity.
Diabetes is a part of my life, and it has made me a stronger person. Sometimes it means tough decisions, like not playing in the final moments of a football game, or not eating another piece of birthday cake. At times, these decisions were hard to make and in fact painful, but they have taught me something. I learned that my health is more important than a football game or a piece of cake — and that most of the time, the wisest choice is the hardest choice. But through these tough decisions and rough blood sugars, I have had my parents. Their love and commitment to me saved my future. They kept my blood sugars in check when I was little, so that I would have a tomorrow and a next year. I owe them everything.
Diabetes doesn't usually warrant any thanks, but in my case I believe it does. I would not have become who I am today - disciplined and strong - if it were not for diabetes.
Now I would like to challenge YOU to step out of your comfort zone. Step out and embrace your disease. Let it be a part of who you are. Stop fighting its attempts to influence your life, because the harder you fight against it, the bitterer you will become. It's a long road, but with the help of the American Diabetes Association and similar communities and voices, I know we will make it.
Clearly for me, one of the best ways to deal with diabetes has been to get involved and advocate. This has been my story to share — what is yours? If you're interested, you can get involved with advocacy today by signing up to become a Diabetes Advocate here. You'll get the latest information about federal and state legislation impacting people with diabetes, as well as events in your local community.
Thank you, Christian. It's nice to be reminded that the ADA, too, is involved in advocacy for type 1 diabetes and reaching out to young adults like yourself.